Mother and daughter design practice Ward & Co has established a permanent base in Antigua. Sarah Ward discusses the challenges of working in both London and the Caribbean
When did you first start working in the Caribbean and why? With four decades of UK and overseas expertise behind us, Ward & Co’s foray into the Caribbean was spurred on by my own desire for a new international challenge and a personal love of the local culture and scenery. In 2017 I acquired land on Antigua’s south-west coast, subsequently overseeing the full construction and interior design of a new super-villa from scratch. The view from the plot is outstanding – we couldn’t resist making it our own and creating something wonderful. Now complete, Villa Papillon is the ultimate destination escape, an eclectic six-bedroom welcoming, characterful space that celebrates the energy and spirit of the Caribbean.
Expanding our portfolio in the Caribbean has been a personal ambition of mine for a long time and I am delighted to see the demand for our expertise grow so quickly. We are fortunate to have a long-established network of agents, developers and suppliers in the global super-prime industry which allows us to navigate the process of providing a turnkey service. Establishing a permanent base in Antigua was the next natural step for us, with Villa Papillon now acting as our studio’s Caribbean headquarters.
We have been met with high demand, resulting in numerous new commissions across Jumby Bay, Pearns Point, Blue Waters Resort and English Harbour, heralding the beginning of an exciting new era for our design studio and a busy year ahead creating intelligent spaces in these stunning surroundings.
How do the projects differ in Antigua compared to London? There are a multitude of differences working on projects in the Caribbean compared to on our home turf and it’s this challenge that drives us.
The obvious and most pressing difference we quickly encountered were the logistics. Everything takes longer, in particular transporting materials to the island, which is most often met with delays. Luckily, our team’s hands-on approach, creative skillset and network of global suppliers has allowed us to operate in the region seamlessly. Challenges with limited local supply and cultural differences when handling business have been overcome by our ability to get to know people and find amazing local artisans. Immersing ourselves in the local community has allowed us to continue producing our Ward & Co signature aesthetic and standard, setting the bar for super prime design on Antigua. There are also many favourable differences. The locals are a joy to work with, and we get to soak up the Caribbean sunshine which provides fantastic natural lighting.
The interior brief differed immensely to previous completed projects in the UK. We’ve had the chance to let our creativity flow into bolder colour palettes and styles. With Villa Papillon, our aim was to create an outstanding home that stands out from the rest – one that respects the brilliant hues of Caribbean culture while staying true to our elegant aesthetic. Through our design, I took advantage of the villa’s orientation and stunning vistas afforded in each room, utilising the exterior architecture to marry the crystal clear azure ocean with bespoke decor and furnishings within. We adopted a calming neutral base palette, layered with pops of eye-catching artwork, natural materials and tactile fabrics, in a requisite nod to the island’s sublime golden beaches. We’ve also incorporated textured and vibrant artworks throughout the home as a continuation of the vivid tones found naturally occurring across the island. The result is an inviting contemporary design that stays with guests long after they have left.
How hard is it for an interior design business to operate in two very different locations? As a tight-knit duo with a fantastic team behind us, we find operating from both London and Antigua works well. All of our projects are handled by the same capable team wherever they are, which gives our studio inspiration and variety. Also, working on several Caribbean projects across the likes of Jumby Bay, Pearns Point and Blue Waters is very efficient as we can spread the costs across the portfolio.
In today’s new digital age, the need for less face to face meetings facilitated through advanced remote work practices has hugely benefited us and allowed for fluid communication between both bases. Like many people, Zoom calls have made international meetings much simpler and more cost effective, allowing us to direct projects without always needing to be on site.
What would be your key advice to any interior designers wishing to branch out abroad? My key advice to interior designers would be to know your market inside and out. It’s not as simple as hopping on a plane, you must do your research beforehand and be savvy for the challenges that might lie ahead.
In order to build strong local leadership and a deep understanding of the market, I’d recommend working with a local team who have the expertise needed to tap into, whether this be introduced in the wider team such as a contractor or project manager. Not only does this integrate the community’s culture into your work, but also helps with language barriers, accessing the local supply chain and even understanding elusive differences, such as how certain design elements may be perceived differently in the country.
Branching into international projects is a learning curve from start to finish and there’s no way of cutting corners. It’s a long process that requires substantial time investment, from learning who is who, to where things are, what to specify, what works and what definitely does not – patience, knowledge and submerging yourself with the locals is key.
Did you always aspire to have an international clientele? At Ward & Co we have always worked with an international clientele across a wonderful selection of countries. As a designer, it’s fun and energising to meet different cultures and soak up design inspiration to breathe new life into aesthetics and projects.
Inspiration from my own personal travels can be found throughout all of our projects. I recently renovated my farmhouse home in Suffolk, taking decor influences from my lifetime of travels to the Far East, Africa and the US. My passion for vintage furniture includes a treasured French bureau, collection of Chinese porcelain plates and silver trunks from Lots Road Auction repurposed as side tables. The farmhouse also incorporates various eastern influences from my childhood spent in Hong Kong, such as a striking red Chinese cupboard, lacquered artworks and imported wall panels.
After a challenging few years, many studios in the design industry remain reluctant to take on international projects. Such projects do require a higher degree of planning ahead, being flexible, adaptable and resourceful – but this is a challenge we’ve never shied away from. Our work takes us all over the world to brilliant destinations, and we have no intentions of slowing down. For me, travelling is critical to stay inspired and continue producing the quality of interiors our studio is renowned for.
What’s it like working with your daughter Rosie? Do you have distinct roles within the company? Our mother-daughter relationship is certainly an advantage when it comes to creative collaboration, we bounce off each other very well and both of us bring different ideas to the table. We trust each other and most importantly, we listen to each other. If one of us disagrees with the other’s idea, we respect that and move on. Communication is key in any business relationship, especially when managing multiple projects simultaneously.
In our day to day roles, I have become more operations focused, whereas Rosie is more hands-on with the design side; she is the one on site with clients, dealing with suppliers and organising the technical install of our projects. This dynamic is why clients enjoy working with us because we both approach a project from a different perspective – they get double the creativity and the end result is perfectly balanced and unique to them. I feel extremely fortunate to be in our position where we can offer our clients such a unique proposition; our close relationship means we have the ability to collaborate in a way other studios cannot. We are a small and agile business and each client has the benefit of both mine and Rosie’s expertise, insight and imagination.
(Photographer credit: Jonathan Bond, Antigua; Taran Wilkhu, London)